Forty years on and the significance of this era resonates more than ever – the Berlin modern pop identity, it’s nightlife, even the public perception of the East and West severance. A year after saying goodbye to the artistic futurist, some of Australia’s foremost music exemplars are coming together to honour the period and its three products Low, Heroes and Lodger.
One of Australia’s most multitalented musicians, Max Sharam, returns home from her New York base to perform some of Bowie’s most significant tracks with a cast she is flattered to be beside. “I love the people I will be touring with. I haven’t heard of anything from Ron S. Peno since the ‘90s so it will be exciting because I was such a fan of him, I thought he was amazing. It will be great to work with Mick Harvey also.”
Peno made his name as the frontman of acclaimed alternative rock band Died Pretty and alongside Sharam, will be joined by the likes of Dave Graney (Dave Graney and the Coral Snakes), Kylie Auldist (The Bamboos) and Kim Salmon (The Scientists) for the showcase.
Similar to Bowie, Sharam has forged a charismatic career never confined by impossibility. As a musician, her 1995 studio album A Million Dollar Girl won her an ARIA for Best Cover Art among seven other nominations. In 2014, she released The Gods Envy EP on her self-established record label Purple Flower Music and soon she’ll be releasing a 2016 Christmas single, No Footprints.
Her ventures into film, stand-up comedy and visual art have been equally as impressive – taking the stage at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and New York Arts Festival, she also produced the 2007 AFI award-winning documentary Forbidden Lie$.
Throughout her career, Sharam has forged an understanding of various elements of Bowie’s work, including his pre-Ziggy Stardust days, however her knowledge of the Berlin era is less profound.
“I used to cover some Bowie tracks – I did a really great live version of Changes – and in my early acoustic days I did a lot of Bowie on guitar,” she says. “(But) it’s quite obscure work and it’s not stuff I’m familiar with. Of course, Boys Keep Swinging and a couple other tracks, but that’s not my Bowie particularly – that Berlin stage. It’s kind of new to me so it’ll be interesting.
“You trust your own ability and your talent; you draw it from your own resources. I’m not worried because I love singing and I love performing. Bowie’s a dream to perform, it’s so out of the cliché, you’ve got to spread your wings.”
While her connection to Bowie’s Berlin tenure might not be concrete, Sharam hopes that some of her own experiences of the German capital will inspire her performance.
“I’ve got a bit of an affiliation with Berlin – I’ve lived there on and off and I’ve got a lot of great friends there – so I have a sentimentality to Berlin and I know where he was and what he was doing. It’s a pilgrimage in a way for me, in regard to doing the Berlin stuff – I love that it wasn’t so commercialised, it was really pure and really experimental and the fact that he was kind of out of the industry.”
Directed by Mick Harvey, Bowie in Berlin will take the great visionary’s legacy across the country through Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. It proves to dazzle and astound and while Sharam is not yet fully sure how the performance will be organised, she’s hoping to slip into an alternative arrangement for Heroes’ post-punk number Joe the Lion.
“I think he’s got a whole structure and there’s a narrative to how the songs are played out but it’ll be exciting to see what Mick comes up with,” she says. “I would love to dress up in a lion outfit for Joe the Lion but it’s going to probably be a hundred degrees.”
By Tom Parker